On Fourth of July, Let Iraq Go

The Fourth of July celebrates the Declaration of Independence of the American colonies of Great Britain, on the grounds that they deserved representative government and popular sovereignty– something denied to them by the British crown.

Iraq was occupied by American troops in 2003 after an illegal invasion, and it is still so occupied. The viceroy appointed by George W. Bush, Paul Bremer, had no legal charter from the US Congress and represented no one, having never been elected to anything. He wrote dozens of laws for the Iraqis by fiat. They are still technically the law of the land in Iraq. He used Iraq’s oil revenue, billions of dollars worth, to run his interim government, even though no Iraqi voted to give it to him for that purpose. In subsequent years the US intervened heavy-handedly in Iraqi political affairs and still does so today. Few complaints of the Founding Fathers against Britain could not be lodged against the United States by Iraq.

All through spring of 2009, US officers in Iraq heavily lobbied the new president, Barack Obama, not to honor the Status of Forces Agreement that George W. Bush had negotiated with the Iraqi parliament during his last months in office. It called for troop reductions. The officers opposed them. It called for US forces to cease actively patrolling major Iraqi cities on June 30, 2009. the officers said that step was foolhardy, and would make it impossible to keep up their collection of intelligence on urban guerrillas. It called for rapid US troop reductions. The officers argued that Iraq would fall back into instability.

Obama stuck to his guns, and the US soldiers stopped patrolling the cities independently on June 30, 2009. In July of that year, the number of attacks by guerrillas and the number of civilians killed both fell by one third. It appears that the patrols were causing violence, not stopping it, since the guerrillas attacked the patrols and ended up killing civilians.

The troop withdrawal also proceeded apace throughout the past year. Although Iraq remains in a low-intensity civil war, the monthly death toll of civilians and security forces averages 300-400 now, compared to 2500 a month in summer of 2006. At the height of the troop escalation or surge there were around 170,000 US troops in Iraq. Today there are about 88,000 and the number is rapidly falling.

Everything the naysayers in the Pentagon alleged about the effect of implementing the SOFA was wrong.

Now unnamed sources in Iraq are leaking again to the New York Times. They want to insist that the timetable for troop withdrawal in the SOFA is unrealistic. They cannot imagine that US troops will really leave by the end of 2011. They are sure that the SOFA will be renegotiated by the new Iraqi government whenever it is finally formed.

While the SOFA could be tinkered with, there are powerful forces working against that outcome. The Sadrists, fundamentalist Shiites who follow cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, may well be kingmakers of the new government, and they are dead set against any change to the SOFA timetables. The Sadrists are highly politically networked and their relative success in the March 7 parliamentary elections attests to their political strength even today. They could prove spoilers of any attempt by the US to drag its feet on withdrawal, since they can put thousands of protesters and hundreds of guerrillas in the street.

Nor is the threat only of renewed political unrest among Sadrists if the US stays in force. Al-Hayat reported on May 24, “The local government in Basra announced yesterday its commitment to the security agreement signed by Iraq and the United States for scheduling the US forces’ withdrawal. The announcement came in reply to statements by Al-Sadr Trend in the governorate about preparing its armed wing “Al-Mahdi Army” to resume the resistance activity against the remaining forces in the governorate and to wait for orders to do this from Trend Leader Muqtada al-Sadr.”

It is true that the 50,000 or so troops that will be left in Iraq as of September may not all be ‘non-combat’ units, since there will be some rebranding. And it is true that Iraq will need the US air force for years to come, for logistics purposes. But to say that the timetable will be tinkered with at the request of the Iraqi parliament in any major way is wishful thinking.

The US commanders were expecting to be asked by the Iraqi officers to go on joint patrols in the major cities. They got few invitations, even though they had trained many of the Iraqi officers who now gave them the cold shoulder. The new Iraqi military is perfectly capable of patrolling on its own now in cities such as Baghdad, and of facing down any ordinary threat from militias. The US is not needed for routine security patrols. While the Iraqi troops have not been able to establish order in Mosul or in Diyala Province, the prospect of the dwindling number of US troops doing so is slim to none. Iraq is just going to be a little unstable for a few years, and even if US troops stayed in numbers past the deadlines, it is highly unlikely that they could miraculously lend the place stability. Bush knocked Iraq off balance, and it will likely remain off balance for a good long time. Bush was not authorized by the Iraqi people to destroy the country. He was acting more like his namesake, King George III, than like a president who won an election.

Moreover, as the US military has increasingly focused on Afghanistan, many will realize that they just don’t have the resources to continue in Iraq.

Iraqi factions are finding it hard to form a government in the wake of the March 7 parliamentary elections. But they have a perfectly good interim government, that of incumbent Nuri al-Maliki, in the meantime. And it took Lebanon 5 months to form a government recently. The Lebanon case is instructive because the national unity government that came out of months of wrangling is fairly representative and seems to have forestalled further trouble of the sort we saw in May 2008. Vice President Biden may or may not succeed in helping the factions make progress during his visit to Baghdad this weekend, but contrary to what some American politicians say, there is no reason the process of government-formation cannot be protracted. Consensus is better in Iraqi politics than up-and-down-votes that cause some faction to lose and to lose face.

For the pragmatic reason that the US cannot afford Iraq, and because it is the right thing to do, the Obama administration should withdraw in a systematic and deliberate manner from Iraq. We owe its people their independence. It is what we used, at least, to stand for.

17 Responses

  1. Sure, there are “unnamed sources” in Iraq, who do not want the US to withdraw. They are called Kurds. They have been lobbying in Washington, along with the US military you mention, since the signature of the SOFA/Withdrawal Agreement.

    Kurds are denominated Iraqis when it suits them to take on Iraqi identity, as in this commentary by a Kurd: , which turns out to be about shelling of KRG territory, quite a different matter. (For Iran to shell Shi’a Iraq would have been very surprising.) When it suits them to be called Kurds, Iraq is forgotten, as in the same commentator’s piece a week later.

    • There were, and are, a lot of people convinced that going in and “changing regimes” was the right thing to do.

      Whether they were interested in it because “they attacked the U.S.” or because of human rights violations or because of a contemporary reincarnation of the White Man’s Burden to civilize the foreigners (there was a lot of talk of “Western-style democracies” but not so much talk on whether a “Western-style democracy” would really be representative of an Eastern people).

      The real danger that we pose to the world isn’t that we aren’t interested in doing things because they’re the right things to do; it’s because we’re so willing to be convinced that doing the right thing is precisely what appeals to our base instincts and the danger we pose to ourselves is that we seldom bother to tally the real costs of “doing the right thing.”

  2. Warmongers are pawns who fail to see that our monetary system is falling apart, just as Europe’s is. Other nations like China and Japan have been financing American debt but they have the same monetary system we have, so the collapse will be worldwide. Warfare destroys wealth, here and wherever fighting takes place. One can only guess what the warmongers will gain by driving our nation into the ditch: it may have something to do with how the leading international banking interests are bound to keep weakening the dollar, as measured in goods, till they’ve collected on all the winning bets on derivatives that they’ve made . One got a glimpse of that process in the taxpayer-funded rescue of AIG, which made a colossal amount of losing bets on derivatives: the knock-on effect was for Washington to rescue the international bankers who were on the winning side, not just the glorified Goldman Sachs, a fronting bank that seems glad to serve as a lightning rod for criticism that only goes skin deep and that also misses the point by not shining light on the monetary system itself, the system that Goldman and its international counterparts know how to exploit at taxpayer expense. One need only look at Europe, where German taxpayers are rescuing the international bankers that lent to Greece. Whether it’s German taxpayers or American taxpayers who are gouged, governments are shifting massive amounts of private savings into the pockets of the international banking interests. This process depends on the central banking system that exists worldwide. Once the banking interests have collected on all their bets, they’ll let the existing monetary system collapse, impoverishing billions of people, and they’ll introduce a new system.

  3. A corner stone of independence is economic independence which is and will be denied to Iraqis even after the troop withdrawal. This strong grip on Iraq’s economy was, is and will be evident in the large elements of corruption in it’s government. The small example of which is electricity. Not to gratify Saddam, but he was able to restore electricity to his people in few month after the 1991 war. It has been 7 years and the vast majority of Iraqis try to survive on few hours of electricity each day. LIFE, liberty and the pursuit of happiness was a laughable concept the U.S during the past 7 years and still and will continue to be after the troops withdrawal. Iraqis will start having the right to live when they are free from the economic strangling grip of the U.S and it’s interests. And that will go hand in hand with Iraq’s stability.

  4. “Obama stuck to his guns, and the US soldiers stopped patrolling the cities independently on June 30, 2009. ”

    The SOFA orders that “all US combat forces shall be withdrawn from Iraqi cities”. The issue of “independent patrols” arises only because of Article 27 of the SOFA which basically says that whenever Iraq is facing any “internal or external threat” the Iraqi government can ask the US to militarily come to it’s aid, even if it violates the rest of the SOFA. It’s a huge loophole. But if the spirit of the SOFA (and indeed it’s literal requirement) is that “all US combat forces shall be withdrawn from Iraqi cities”, then it is an extremely cynical ploy to re-brand these as “Iraqi patrols” when that may consist of only a single Iraqi with a group of US combat troops doing a “combat patrol”.

    Also, shouldn’t “US forces” include US-funded mercenaries and Special Ops? How many are left? How many will stay?

    “Bush was not authorized by the Iraqi people to destroy the country. ”
    Right. Also, neither Bush or Obama were authorized by the Iraqi people to occupy their country. If you feel Obama has been invited to be an occupier by Maliki, then you have to make the same argument for Bush. But it’s like saying Diem asked us to stay in S. Vietnam.

    “the monthly death toll of civilians and security forces averages 300-400 now, compared to 2500 a month in summer of 2006.”
    These are very low figures. Is this your official rejection of the Lancet Study?

    “the Obama administration should withdraw in a systematic and deliberate manner from Iraq.”
    As you pointed out, Obama’s plan for redeployment is identical to the Bush negotiated SOFA. Announcing in 2008 that the occupation would automatically continue til 2012 (maybe longer, who knows?) and calling it “ending the war” is ridiculous. This war began in 2003, upon election Obama declared he would continue it for nearly as long as it had already been going. And that’s acceptable to everyone?

    “It is true that the 50,000 or so troops that will be left in Iraq as of September may not all be ‘non-combat’ units, since there will be some rebranding. And it is true that Iraq will need the US air force for years to come, for logistics purposes. But to say that the timetable will be tinkered with at the request of the Iraqi parliament in any major way is wishful thinking.”

    Then it seems the tinkering is pre-planned. Because if they are re-branded combat troops then the requirement has no meaning. If we are still bombing (“logistics purposes”) Iraq beyond the end of 2011 then clearly the occupation will not have ended. With these loopholes built into the SOFA, what tinkering is necessary?

    Finally, Mr Cole, why did you not also call for a withdrawal from Afghanistan and Pakistan? Why only Iraq? Could you explain? Thanks.

  5. The whole point of the Iraq crime, as with the upcoming Iran crime is to control the oil.

    It would of course be preferable to own it but mere control is sufficient to maintain the hegemony.

  6. Why lug all that stuff home and abandon our magnificent bases when the plan is wage the next preventive war right next door in Iran? If we can stick around in Iraq for another few years, use our clandestine forces to insure that the present corruption level is sustained, or hopefully enhanced, and substantially bribe the Iraqi military and civilian leaders, then we can have the banana republic we always wanted – one that would be a friendly launching pad for our inevitable victory in Iran. It is unfortunate that the main objective of the “Surge”, to eliminate al Sadr, failed. He may not fit the corrupt and bribeable profile we prefer.

    Being a warrior nation means you never have to say:
    Sorry.
    Please.
    Any radiation sickness?
    Was that a wedding we just hit?
    Can I have permission?
    Are you hungry?
    Are your kids malnourished?
    Are you living in misery?
    Do you have a job or a place to live?
    And so on……….

    So leaving Iraq is not only going to make the Iran war more expensive, it will also show a weakness that is inappropriate for a warrior nation, especially the World’s most heavily armed, barracks-averse, warrior nation.

  7. I am here in Baghdad, can someone please explain to me how this is a civil war right now? Please?

  8. I have no problems with the position that the success of Shiites in ethnically cleansing Bagdhad led to the overall reduction in violence Petraeus claims for himself and the surge. I don’t know how I can believe that and also believe that US patrols were, in and of themselves, causing violence by virtue of the fact that they existed at all. Since the chief victors of ethnic violence were all allied with Iran (with the remainder being Kurds, who as noted above, are against the withdrawal but are unlikely to prevail against it), Iran was in a position to tell the groups to knock it off; thus, a trickle of Sunni violence remains and there is little Shiite violence against US forces because that might encourage US forces to stay longer, which neither Shiites nor Iran desire.

    Were Obama to declare that US forces would not withdraw, I would expect a “sudden” and “unforeseen” rise in violence even without patrols to provoke them, because the violence would then be politically necessary.

  9. Thank you Mr. Cole, time and time again you articulate your thoughts!

  10. A very realistic & sincere wish for Afghanistan, Dr. Cole.

    How USA, UK & Coalition forces will leave after they hit a Trillion Dollars jackpot?

  11. I was remiss in assuming that others would know that “doing the right thing because it’s the right thing to do” would require that the doer would have enough intelligence to know what the consequences of the done thing would be.

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